Finishing the Race with Joy

Scripture: Acts 20:22~24 - And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Scripture compares the Christian life to a race on several occasions. Scripture warns us of the discipline it takes to run the race well (1 Cor. 9:24~27). It also tells us of a proven methodology for running the race, as well as what our central focus should be while running the race (Heb. 12:1, 2). Our Scripture reading uses the analogy of a race too, it speaks of the priority the race should have in our lives. However, the Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon, therefore, the approach to running this race is different. There are many differences between a sprint and a marathon, but one of the major differences (besides the speed at which each race is run) is that in a sprint you can see the finish line from your starting point. In a marathon you can’t see the finish line, because it’s far from the starting point.  The runners must rely on signs and markers to stay on course until they reach the finish line. The Word of God are the signs, markers as well as the sufficient light to light the path (Ps. 119:105). We have been placed into a marathon in which we don’t know how long our leg of the race will be, nevertheless, we’ve been called to run it.

As stated before, our Scripture reading’s focus is on the priority the race should have in our lives. The verses above point out how much of a priority the race was to the apostle Paul. The overall direction of the course for the apostle Paul was unknown. The Lord revealed it a little at a time to him as He does with us. “For we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). What Paul knew was that there would be setbacks, distractions, pain, and possibly death along the way. He boldly declared that none of these things disturbed him or moved him from his divinely appointed course. Why? He did not count his life dear to himself. The apostle Paul was not advocating asceticism, which means severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons. Nor was he advocating stoicism, which means the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint. Neither of these extremes fit within the overall framework of biblical Christianity -- whether single or married. What does the apostle mean then? He was talking about putting the will of God in its proper place in his life, i.e., before and above any comfort or personal harm he might encounter. Discomfort and the desire to be in control of the course, are perhaps the number one and two reasons why we find it hard to make running the course God’s way the highest priority in our lives. The apostle’s desire was to finish the race the Lord assigned to him with joy. We all know that joy is a world of difference to that of happiness. Happiness is dependent on circumstances, conditions, the right setting, etc.  Joy is not dependent on anything external. Joy (as well as the other fruit of the Spirit) is the by-product of and the indication of the Holy Spirit’s satisfaction with our yielding to His leading. To the degree that we’re yielding to His leading, is the degree that we’ll experience joy as well as the other fruit of the Spirit. The anticipation of the joy of doing God’s will was the reason the apostle Paul did not count his life dear to himself, and it was the reason he could say “…none of these things move me…”.

Jesus stayed the course the Father set for Him, and it was a rough road.  In fact, no one else could endure it. What was Jesus’ attitude toward it? Jesus’ attitude toward it was one of submission and joy (Matt. 26:37~44; Heb. 12:2)! Did Jesus really suffer? Yes. He suffered more than anyone else in history, because it was physical and spiritual agony on the level of divine wrath. Yet, He had joy in the midst of it. The apostle Paul learned from our Lord how to put the will of God above his own comfort and personal security. If we want to finish the race with joy, we’d better by, God’s grace, learn to cultivate the same attitude our Lord and the apostle Paul had toward the Father’s planned course for our lives.

Prayer: Heavenly Father: We confess that it is a terrifying thought for us to run any course at full speed with what seems like blindfolds on to us. We don’t know in full the course that You set for us, but You do. In fact, You designed and approved it. Your Word is the sufficient light that we cling to for our instructions for running the race that You set before us. We know and understand that the proper place for our comfort and personal security should be below Your will.  Help us to make Your will the highest priority even at the expense of our comfort and personal security. Teach us how to truly walk by faith and not by sight. Teach us how to run with patience for Your glory. In Jesus name. Amen

(by Casey Lingham)






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